Guest post by Starr Sackstein
Defining appropriate relationships within education used to be simple.
Teachers saw students in class and/or during the school day, but once the three o’clock bell rang, communication ceased until the following school day.
Image courtesy Starr Sackstein, used with permission
My students might have a coronary if I fail to answer an email at 10pm on a weekend.
With the creation of email, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, it’s near impossible for the human part of a teacher to go without notice in settings less familiar than school. Comfortably seated with my iPad and iPhone on either side of me and my Macbook Pro serving as heating pad to my belly, I’m in bed conferencing with my students using powerful new social mediums.
Whether answering quick project direction questions, putting out fires of uncooperative technology when an assignment is due, or chasing down newspaper leadership to make sure deadlines are met, I’m certain some of my older colleagues would writhe with discomfort at how available I am to my students.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The intrusion of student texts, emails, or IMs is irritating at times when I’m attending to my first job as mommy to my seven-year-old son. The blurring of lines and need for clear boundaries becomes evident as he seeks my attention and I reach for one of my trusty devices. This is inevitably followed by, “Why don’t you pay attention to me? You’re always on your computer.”
Pouty, adorable flesh and blood knows how to guilt me out of my obsessive compulsive need to tie up loose ends with my students.
As a self-labeled workaholic (half in jest, I admit this) who feels abnormally responsible for the students who grace my high school classes, social media has challenged me to draw deliberate lines that I dutifully try to respect. The more comfortable I became with Facebook and the Google Suite, the more difficult it became for me to shut the door on my work day and embrace my life at home.
What teacher doesn’t like an industrious worker, diligently burning the midnight oil to successfully complete their work?
Needless to say, my inner perfectionist longed to provide excellent customer service to my most dedicated students, which unfortunately undermined and misconstrued my affection for spending down time playing games and leaving work.
The disappointment that I experienced in my son was not acceptable; he has to be a priority. There’s only one of him and soon enough he won’t want to hang out with me any longer.
So changes had to happen.
It started simply with a cautionary announcement:
“I will no longer be answering emails on the weekend or after 8 during the week; it’s nothing personal, I just need to regain the life you guys don’t believe I have.”
Having been a student once, I know the theory that teachers aren’t humans, but robots that live at school, the good ones designed to thrive on catering to student needs at all hours of the day. In this fantasy, I ride a unicorn and have an additional 7 hours of every day just to sleep.
Not so much.
It may have been harder for me at first to adhere to the new boundaries I created. Seriously, the second a little number bubble exposed itself on my iPhone over my email icon, I experienced a fervent, almost magnetic pull to discover who was responsible for my current bout with popularity.
“No!” I told myself. “Nothing bad will happen if it waits.”
And that was the truth. Training myself to draw a clear line between work and home was essential to the continued joy of my job. Teaching is such a personal profession that most of us bleed life into it, so burn out can be inevitable if we don’t force separation.
Despite the ease of communication with students, colleagues, or administrators, we can’t allow our personal lives to suffer at the expense of the job. Decide early on how the students are allowed to reach you and be transparent about it.
High school educator, reformer, and a recovering perfectionist, Starr Sackstein leads by example both in the classroom and on the Internet. An impassioned writer, photographer, and mother to a sassy seven-year-old, Starr is convinced that her cats were human in another life. A Grateful Dead enthusiast, she is a fierce defender of first amendment rights.
[…] more nights spent chatting into the wee hours with students about the details of their work, it was time to take my life back. Setting clear boundaries was essential for my students and […]
I really enjoyed reading this article and I feel that no matter what you should be able to separate your work life from your life at home. Raising your child and having the time to do that is the most important thing a woman can do. You shouldn’t have to feel obligated to answer emails on days that you are with your child. I agree completely with your point of view. – Chelsea Mesa
ChelseaMesa Thanks, Chelsea. It is tough when you care so deeply about your work and your family, but there does need to be a clear separation so that you can appreciate both appropriately.
kenjeffery mssackstein that was great!
DaniParadis kenjeffery thanks :-) humbled by your kind words. Still tough kids do text. Shared article with them. May have sunk in
kenjeffery it’s a work in progress :/) glad I could help
mssackstein Wise words! I can usually ignore emails, but I’ve had students who call or text me at all hours as well.
mssackstein And… following!
[…] How Social Media is Blurring Lines in Education […]
mssackstein I like that you set time constraints! Back in the day, we had “office hours”. That should apply to social media!
RafranzDavis I’m working on it. There are still days that I check and answer. Weekends are the hardest. Work in process
I remember my first year of school here, the concept of a ‘paperless school’ was introduced, and many people were intrigued by the idea. It bothered me because of newspapers, but I never really realized how much things had changed. We rarely use paper assignments, and if we do, they’re never taken home as homework. There’s no excuse for anything because everything is now online. People always say ‘our generation’ spends too much time on social networking sites or online, but adults are doing so now as well. It makes life easier and everything more accessible, life and school and even socializing.
weeeeesaa it is definitely easier, but with everything that creates ease, there is a price. We need to remember the balance – use the new tools but not abuse or forget the person to person as well.
Miss I really liked this article, you did great in getting your point across about work and your personal life and how media gets in between as well. Im not much of social media kind of person but i can imagine you taking time out of your personal life to help us students, because your just that much of a great teacher :)
stephanie yaipen Awww, Stephanie, that is so sweet. I do what I can!
Starr ~ You have absolutely nailed the challenge between the eyes. My “troops” know that I’m on line roughly 18 hours a day…not actively doing stuff, mind you, but there. They’ve also learned that, if they don’t respond to my school-based email, I WILL track them down on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
As an “experienced” (one of my students recently informed me I was “old”…how DARE he?!?) PR professional/professor, I also instinctively know the boundaries in our online relationships, and I keep out of the obvious (to me) quicksand areas. But I also have found that I am able to quickly learn about and respond to students who truly have experienced something unfortunate.
Things are changing, and we have to learn how to adapt and adopt. We also have to remember and remind ourselves that we are entitled to have a life outside the workplace/classroom.
Terrific post. Thanks for sharing!
KirkHazlett Thanks! It is like quicksand. I happily stepped in it at the beginning until I realized it was ruining my quality of life and creating undo resentments. I do what I can now and it feels much better. Have a great weekend.
KirkHazlett One of your students had the gall to call you “old” to your face? First of all, it’s not true, and second, that’s just rude!
Shonali I have a great relationship with my troops, Shonali. They really DO show me a huge amount of respect, but they’re not above “poking the tiger” once in a while just to see what happens! This student actually got verbally beat up by a couple of folks sitting beside him! We all had a good laugh!!
I appreciate your kind observation regarding my “experience”! It’s nice to know that some of my friends haven’t given up on me yet! :-)
I was born when technology was getting popular so i wouldn’t know the struggle when students couldn’t contact there teachers after school. But having a computer at home i can talk to other people in school or out side of school. Plus websites like facebook we can keep our friends close to us. When people say technology is changing our lifes it is, making people more lazy but at the same time more productive. I can contact my teacher if i didnt come to school that day and if my teacher has an email then she can contact me that day.
antonio davis that is a real benefit to technology. When you miss a day of school, you can info right away. Most teachers would be happy to help a student that way.
Love the post Starr! I saw Peter Shankman speak once. I disagreed when he was evangelizing how we need to eat live sleep breathe social always on connecting…because he lives that way. It is actually unhealthy. Same with managing clients. It is easy to get into a whirlwind of everything is an emergency thus throwing away time management and planning. In fact I stopped taking ’emergency calls’ for non-emergencies to hopefully condition clients and partners to plan better when they need me. Even if I am free I don’t want them knowing I am that available.
HowieG It’s so hard to separate the emergencies from non-emergencies. The availability really does make everything seem so important. Once we get into the habit of answering immediately we set a precedence for ourselves that is hard to maintain and is very unhealthy.
In my opinion, the technology we are provided lately blurs the line of social life and home life, simply due to the availability of our social life at home, in the form of some sort of portable device. Portable devices allow us to maintain our social lives in the palm of our hands. As a teacher i can imagine it being overwhelming to constantly trying and reply to your students needs, but maintaining your home life while doing so is still possible in my opinion thanks to all the current technology.
john kang Couldn’t agree with you more John. The lines are blurred all over and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something we have to adjust to. Still we need to decide on what’s appropriate.
An impassioned writer, photographer, and mother to a sassy seven-year-old, Starr is convinced that her cats were human in another life.
~* great ending *~
I believe that most students do not really recognize the teachers as having social lives, so its really hard for them to understand the level priority in one’s life. I hope this article really teaches those who put a blind eye on anyone but themselves. It greatly thought me to have patience and understand the boundaries between work and social life.
Sebastian Michalak Why do you think students fail to recognize that teachers do other stuff outside of school?
#pfcollege I find this article very interesting. It actually relates to me. Whenever I have a project due and my mother isn’t home my siblings become my priority and I can’t put all my effort into a project while looking after two 3 year olds, one 7 year old, and two 13 year olds. Also half of the time, all my social media gets in my way of me doing what I have to do.
P.S. I HAVE TO SEE MS. SACKSTEIN’S UNICORN! I HEARD ITS THE BOMB!!
This article was really entertaining, especially your reference to your fantasy as riding a unicorn. It does make a lot of sense. Social networking creates a very fine line between students and teachers. I respect you completely with the ‘So changes had to happen.’ section. I’ve had to go through the same thing, this year especially. Priorities come about and secondary responsibilities are hard to complete. Creating limits for ourselves, no matter how controlling we are, is important. Great article! I never really thought about this topic and relationship (and the possible problems) until now!
#pubfinancecollege there are some teachers that send emails to students at ridiculous times of the day expecting an immediate response
weeeeesaa suppose it goes both ways
#pfcollege I find this article really interesting because now teachers don’t have the excuse to ignore the students when they have questions about the homework. The social media is a gateway for the students and the teachers to connect but it went over the line. Teachers with kids experience difficulties because unconsciously the student became the first priority. The “change” that Ms.Sackstein made is essential to recover her life outside of school and something that other teachers can learn from. I think it’s important to balance work and personal life or else you can’t experience the happiness in living a life.
cutergirl1234 It’s an important life lesson whatever you decide to do… Balance is key
https://twitter.com/search?q=%23pubfinancecollege&src=hash my personal favorite part of this article written by THE Ms. Sackstein was when she called herself a unicorn.
weeeeesaa I’m glad that’s what stands out the most! Content, Nisas?????
https://twitter.com/search?q=%23pubfinancecollege&src=hash I think that when students think of teachers they think that they are suppose to be there for them 24/7 when it comes to school related issues and because we have the internet and social network it just becomes much easier for students to ask their teachers for help on a assignment. I hear a lot of teachers complaining that they would get loads of emails asking about instructions from the instructions of a project late at night, I understand how it would get them upset since the emails are proof that the student did their assignment at the last minute.
annali119 it is hard for teachers to say no especially if a student is invested in doing well. I know it is hard for me not to help. #pfcollege
annali119 I hear a lot of teachers complaining about the same issue, but I’m not sure what to do in order to make it less of a burden on them, cause sometimes we really need their input or answers to something. Do you do anything specific to try to be less annoying? #pfcollege
EmmaMalefakis annali119 It’s not annoying, expectations just need to be adjusted. Teachers are people too and can’t always answer the call when the bat signal is raised.
I found this article to be very well written and relate able. As a student, I know that I often forget about teacher’s own personal lives outside of school and subconsciously expect them to make me, one of their students, their first priority. This article makes me remember that they too have lives and families which obviously come first, and I don’t have to spend the rest of my night frustratedly awaiting a response right away. #pfcollege
EmmaMalefakis Thanks Emma. I think we all feel this way at some time, but we need to allot for other people’s personal space. Everything that happens require time and special time to get it done. #pfcollege
I find this very entertaining and interesting. I particularly liked the section “So changes had to happen” because it was very funny and It’s something I can relate to. As a child I always did think that teachers lived in the school and seeing them outside of school was always strange, even after I knew that teachers did in fact have a home. Overall, I enjoyed this article and enjoyed seeing a different side of Ms. Sackstein.
Ardhys De Leon Thanks Ardhys! It’s good for you all to see that I practice what I preach. Teachers are people and although it is hard to comprehend that we do live in the real world, we do :)
I agree with your article in that there should be a line in between students and teachers using media. It is students job to pay attention in the classroom and ask questions. Teachers only work five days a week it isn’t fair for them to have to wake up by an email sent by a student. If I was in the position where I constantly got emails from my job on my day off then it wouldn’t be my “day off”. It takes away from a calm day and having to rush back to the student worried they might not get there work done takes you away from your family and quality time.
lesliegranados I think that is a mature approach for a teenager. I think sometimes adolescents have a hard time feeling like they aren’t the center of everyone’s world. It’s not intentional, it’s developmental!
Despite the last bell, I find it to be much more easier if I did have some sort of communication with my teachers, in case of some last minute questions that wasn’t covered in class. Many times, I find my self unsure of my direction towards a huge project due the next day, and wished I could send a quick text, as text messages generally lead to a faster response than an email.
PeggyWu I think that is what I would advocate for using social media and out growth of the classroom. Students should have some access, but shouldn’t forget that teachers do have to attend to their own lives at some point. Thanks for sharing, Peggy!
@mssackstein Ms. Sackstein. . . your inner perfectionist should be proud of this post as you ride your unicorn to success. Wonderful.
@mgcjusa Thanks – I’m a recovering perfectionist… lol. Thanks for the high praise. Much appreciated.
@mgcjusa As I said on twitter, I appreciate your kind words. It is a struggle to really balance the access I provide to students and my personal life, but I think the inclusion of the social has improved my practice and my students’ learning